Reading ‘LESBIAN ACTIVISM IN THE (POST-)YUGOSLAV SPACE: SISTERHOOD AND UNITY’

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eduardaEduarda Ferreira is a researcher of CICS.NOVA – Interdisciplinary Centre of Social Sciences, at FCSH/NOVA (e.ferreira@fcsh.unl.pt)


‘Lesbian activism in the (Post-) Yugoslav space: sisterhood and unity’, edited by Bojan Bilić and Marija Radoman and published by Palgrave Macmillan (2018), is an important book for many reasons. Because it is about a geopolitical reality that still needs to be claimed and understood, the (post-)Yugoslav space; because it is about activism on a time that is ever more urgent to stand up and resist the backlash on human rights; because it is about discrimination on ground of sexual orientation, still a widespread reality in most countries all around the world; because it is specifically about lesbians and gender matters in all contexts of life including, or even particularly, in what concerns sexuality and human rights; because although it is written in English it is not a book that (re)produces the Anglo-American hegemony on academia and production of knowledge, it uses English as a working language to expose Yugoslav activist struggles to international audiences.

One must acknowledge that to carry out research in one’s own language and expressing or translating the findings in English constitutes a major barrier to researchers who are non-native speakers of English; it increases individual and collective time, costs, and psychological and financial investment, and it enhances asymmetries between researchers based on their native language. This is an investment that must be valued.

To learn from often neglected geographies, such as Eastern Europe, makes us aware of the multiplicity of trajectories, and question the linear perspective often present when research focus only on “Western countries”. As Doreen Massey argues the “cosmology of ‘only one narrative’ obliterates the multiplicities, the contemporaneous heterogeneity of space. It reduces simultaneous coexistence to place in the historical queue.”. This book is a major contribution to the inscription and the recognition of the multiplicity of trajectories in feminist, lesbian and queer activism.

The book has 10 authors, 9 women and 1 man, with a “multitude of positionalities, identifications, experiences, voices and perspectives to explore and take a stance on the range of ideological choices and political objectives that have shaped feminist/lesbian/queer activist endeavors”.

The book editors and authors, scholars and activists of Eastern Europe, survived the turbulent 1990s of Yugoslavia’s disintegration and lived through the confusions that preceded and followed it. So, their positionality is clearly stated, and it grants them an inside knowledge of what this book is about. This is another very significant aspect of the book, as an academic production it acknowledges the importance of the positionality of its contributors and adopts a reflexive approach, an ongoing process of the researchers to clearly identify, construct, critique and articulate their positionality.

Positionality and reflexivity intersect with activism as an academic practice, and academic activities as an activist action. Academic practices intersect power, knowledge, and subjectivity. Activism is not an isolated practice in certain spaces and moments of life; it is a continuum in the diverse life contexts and is embedded in academic activity. The boundaries between academia and activism are diffuse; there are overlaps between being an activist and an academic, between research practices and political actions. This book is a good example of these intersections.

One of the most interesting aspects of the book is to adopt an intersectional standpoint with a socio-economic sensitive perspective. Unfortunately, in many academic productions focusing on queer issues the socio-economic aspects of life are not considered or mentioned. This book, on the contrary, assumes the major influence of the socio-economic aspects in everyone lives and how it is closely related to individual freedom and human rights.

Sexual lives are always gendered and the intersections of sexual orientation and gender are central to comprehend the specificities of lesbians as being women and living in a social discriminatory context. Gender is one of the most salient axes of difference, and lesbian activism can challenge the conflation of lesbians and gay men, asserting that heteronormativity and homonormativity do not affect lesbians and gay men in the same ways.

The book recognises that heterosexual and patriarchal power relations continue to need to be contested. But it goes further and recognises the gendering of queer. Many works that are now labelled as queer, focus implicitly on gay men, and discussions of homonormativity can often fail to explore the gendered differences between men and women. More often than not, “gay men and lesbians” are considered homonormative in homogeneous ways that do not account for gendered differences.

Lesbian activism provides an important critique of the intersections of patriarchy, sexisms, homophobia and heterosexisms, as well as ensuring that lesbians and queer women’s spatialities are made visible. Often discussions of gender and sexualities are made through the lens of masculinities continuing to reproduce particular normativities, such as patriarchy and sexisms. Heterosexism and male dominance are a pervasive reality, the intersections of gender and sexualities is not only important, but necessary in engaging with social lives and working towards social justice.

It is interesting that one of the topics of the book is about the tension between trans-exclusionary radical feminism and a non-essentialist approach in lesbian activism. To go beyond identity politics or to reclaim only women’s spaces is also a current issue of lesbian activism in Portugal. In a recent research I explored the opinions and ideas of lesbian activists and other women on the lesbian activism in Portugal. It was possible to register diverse perspectives about what it is, how it should work and how it can evolve.

Notwithstanding the diverse perspectives on lesbian activism, one of the most important conclusions is that it is urgent to promote debates and questioning on sex and gender. When talking about lesbians most of the participants used language that reproduce binarism and did not include the myriad of combinations between sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation. The notion of political activism was somehow absent from most of the ideas expressed. It seems that to talk about lesbian activism in Portugal still resonates with lesbian sexual exclusivity. At the present time in Portugal there are alternative social movements emerging, such as on precarious work, housing and sustainable economy, that provides opportunities to collectively organise political actions and to work together on a common political agenda.

One of the conclusions of the research identifies the importance to connect the lesbian activism in Portugal with other movements such as feminist, trans, queer, and other emerging movements to engage in disruption of normative binarism. Connecting and working together does not mean erasing diversity, but acknowledging in actions the intersections of diverse situations, needs, and agendas. This is the time to promote a political lesbianism with no ideological separatism but advocating for a cohesive feminist/LGBTI/queer agenda that integrates and promotes synergies of diverse needs and situations, and that at the same time acknowledges the importance of gender as an important axis of difference that intersects all other.

And I think this is also the main perspective of the contributions to this book, namely that an analysis of lesbian activism cannot be detached from a broader political context.

This book’s potential is mainly related to the fact that it is based on personal experiences and first-person narratives, giving substance to the “human capacity to inscribe life in and create history/herstory”, making real the “greatest privilege of survival” to disseminate the “seeds of the future”.

I truly believe that this book will contribute, as the authors state: “to evoke a more lesbian world, a kind of world that would, …, once and for all put an end to widespread misogyny and hollow illusions of masculine perfection.”


Como citar este artigo: Ferreira, Eduarda (2018) Reading ‘LESBIAN ACTIVISM IN THE (POST-)YUGOSLAV SPACE: SISTERHOOD AND UNITY. Life Research Group Blog, ICS-Lisboa, https://liferesearchgroup.wordpress.com/2018/10/16 16 de Outubro (Acedido a xx/xx/xx)

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